November 30, 2004

A Photo Tour of Libya

Like I said in my last post, you'll have to wait for my LA Weekly story before you can read about my experience in Libya. But here's a visual tour. Enjoy. There aren't many pictures of Libya in the world, at least not compared to the number of pictures of other places. I'm happy to contribute a few more.

Tripoli_from_the_Air.jpg

Tripoli from the air.


Tripoli_Hotel_Urban_Wasteland.jpg

We were stuck in this hotel amid an urban wasteland. Can you guess what that object is in the foreground? I’ve no idea. It could be the world's ugliest fountain, but I saw no pipes.


Tripoli_Me_Hotel_Lobby.jpg

Me in the hotel lobby. That’s everyone’s pal there on the wall. The people love him so much they put up his portait everywhere. They just can’t help themselves. He is the sun of Africa. At least that’s what he says.


Tripoli_Agoraphobia.jpg

I got agorophobia walking around Tripoli’s vast empty spaces.


Tripoli_Defunct_Regime_Compound.jpg

Here is one of the regime’s many defunct compounds strewn around Tripoli like so much junk.


Tripoli_Empty_Street.jpg

Tripoli is a safe city, but the sound of machine-gun fire in the background wouldn’t have seemed out of place.



Tripoli_Ghaddafi_Apartment.jpg

How would you like to live in this apartment building? Ghaddafi can’t even leave people alone when they’re at home.


Tripoli_Ghaddafi_Poster.jpg

The bastard is everywhere.


Tripoli_Harsh_Neighborhood.jpg

Can you see now why I said spending two days in Paris on the way home was a sight for sore eyes? Tripoli is awful. There are no soft edges.


Tripoli_Modern_Squalor.jpg

Tripoli was in the orbit of the Soviet Union, and it sure looks the part.


Tripoli_Waterfront.jpg

This is how Ghaddafi "decorated" his waterfront. Tripoli doesn’t feel at all like a Mediterranean city. It is totally walled off from its neighbors and its environment.


Tripoli_Tiny_Mosque.jpg

Here is the smallest mosque I’ve ever seen. It surely provides a nice little respite from the urban hell that surrounds it.


Tripoli_Green_Square.jpg

Green Square is famous, but it shouldn’t be. This is no Italian piazza we’re talking about. It’s a parking lot ringed by a six-lane urban speedway.


Tripoli_Italian_Quarter.jpg

The Italian quarter of the city, built by Mussolini in Italy’s fascist-imperialist days.


Tripoli_Old_City_Skyline.jpg

The skyline of Tripoli’s old city, the only interesting place in the capital.


Tripoli_Old_City_Charming.jpg

Some streets of the old city, while somewhat decrepit, still have their charms.


Tripoli_Old_City_Crone.jpg

An old woman walks the streets of the old city. Women were a rare sight, even in Libya’s largest metropolis. More than 99 percent of the people I saw were men.


Tripoli_Old_City_Havana.jpg

Tripoli’s old city made me think of Havana, not the details but the decay.


Tripoli_Old_City_Squalor.jpg

The old cities in Tunisia are exotic, but the old city of Tripoli is a little too slummy to have that cool Eastern vibe. It’s too run-down and sullen.


Tripoli_Modern_Hotel.jpg

There aren’t many nice modern buildings in Tripoli, but there are a handful. This one is a brand-new hotel that charges 250 dollars a night. I hope the hot water works. It didn’t in my hotel.


Tripoli_Modern_Mosque.jpg

The mosques are always nice to look at. They’re almost the only nice buildings in the entire country.


Sahara_Plain.jpg

Much of the Sahara is a vast arid plain.


Sahara_Mountain.jpg

A range of mountains crosses East to West just south of Tripoli.


Sahara_Old_House.jpg

An old house (I think) on the side of the road in the desert.


Sahara_al_Fatah_Forever.jpg

You can’t even drive in the countryside without running into the regime’s propaganda. Etched into the side of the mountain is “Al Fatah Forever.”


Sahara_Roadside_Propaganda.jpg

More of Ghaddafi’s bullshit hassles drivers on the way up to the city of Nalut.


Nalut_Old_Mosque.jpg

An ancient mosque in the old city of Nalut.


Nalut_Ksar.jpg

Human honeycomb. You might recognize this Berber architecture. You’ve seen it in the Star Wars movies. George Lucas used similar sites in next-door Tunisia as film sets.


Sahara_Driving.jpg

Driving in the desert toward the city of Ghadames, the fabled “jewel of the Sahara.”


Ghadames_Old_City_Cemetary_and_Sahara.jpg

A cemetary at the edge of Ghadames, and the vast empty Sahara beyond.


Ghadames_New_City_Mosque.jpg

Enormous minarets rise above the new city of Ghadames.


Ghamames_Old_City_Entering.jpg

Here is the entrance to the old city of Ghadames. It is beautiful and intoxicating, but people are forbidden to live there. Ghaddafi evacuated the city at gunpoint and forced everyone into modern concrete block housing.


Ghadames_Old_City_Passageway.jpg

The city isn’t underground. It was built with a roof on it to keep the summer heat out and the winter warmth in.


Ghadames_Old_City_Skylight.jpg

The city is lit by skylights. Some passages are pitch black even at midday. The inhabitants memorized the walls.


Ghadames_Old_City_Door.jpg

If Libya were a normal country and Ghadames were a normal city this place would be packed with hotels, coffeeshops, restaurants, internet cafes, and desert adventure tour offices. But Libya is not a normal country and the old city of Ghadames is an unwilling ghost town. At least I was free to walk around in it.


Ghadames_Old_City_Open_Air.jpg

Not all of the city is “underground.” Paths connect the houses and main streets to outdoor gardens.


Ghadames_Old_City_Traditional_Decoration.jpg

It isn’t quite right to call this decorative style “Berber.” It is unique to the city of Ghadames.


Ghadames_Inside_Traditional_House.jpg

This is what the inside of a traditional Ghadames house looks like. A family still owns and keeps up this house as a showpiece, but they are no longer allowed to live in it. Imagine being forced out of your own house by the state and shepherded into a concrete compound.


Ghadames_Cafe.jpg

Somehow Ghaddafi was persuaded to allow one single café to set up shop in the old city .This is what Ghadames would look like if it were allowed to live, if the indigenous Berber culture were not being erased by the regime.


Sahara_Empty.jpg

I walked to the edge of the city to snap this picture. Imagine setting off for someplace else in the old days before roads and cars were invented. Then imagine doing it in August when the Sahara is the hottest place on the Earth. (It is quite nice in November, a comfy 70 degrees Fahrenheit.)


Sahara_Algerian_Border.jpg

That line of trees is the Algerian border. The mountain of sand is inside Algeria. You can walk into Algeria from Ghadames, but no one I talked to had ever been there. It still isn’t safe. Just a week before I arrived some German tourists were found dead right across the border, presumably killed by Salafis.


Sahara_Big_Dune.jpg

The biggest dunes I saw in Tunisia were six feet tall. The dunes in Libya rise more than 300 feet.


Sahara_Dune_in_Sunlight.jpg

I climbed to the top of the dunes to watch the sun set. It took a long time.


Sahara_Silver_Dune.jpg

The dunes turn silver at twilight. Look to the horizon, past the wide distant mesas. You see what looks like a mountain range? That’s the Grand Erg Oriental, an enormous sea of sand that stretches hundreds of miles into Algeria and Tunisia.


Ruins_Leptis_Magna_Arch.jpg

The spectacular Roman ruins at Leptis Magna are better than anything I’ve seen in Italy. There were no tourists there - only me, Shelly, our guide, and some goats.


Ruins_Sabratha_Theater.jpg

The fabulous Roman theater at Sabratha.


Posted by Michael J. Totten at November 30, 2004 09:50 PM
Comments

Thanks for the pictures and the comments!

Posted by: slickdpdx at November 30, 2004 10:05 PM

Michael

Wonderful pictures, thanks.

Ghadames is beautiful.

Posted by: Benjamin at November 30, 2004 10:15 PM

The edifice in the second pic vaguely resembles a surfacing sandworm from "Dune."

Posted by: Alan K. Henderson at November 30, 2004 10:58 PM

wow...those pictures of Ghadames are great. Never even heard of it before.

Posted by: bobderfisch at December 1, 2004 12:16 AM

Those pictures are really cool. I would be interested to know what kind of camera you were using.

Posted by: Sherlock at December 1, 2004 12:30 AM

Oh...

And that picture with the old woman in it is really awesome. Almost forgot to mention that.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at December 1, 2004 01:50 AM

I think the cement thing in the 2nd pic is really the World's Largest Grapefruit Juicer. Even as we, um, type, Lybia genetic engineers are developing a breed of giant grapefruits for it. The primary hold up is that they're having a hard time getting the pigments in the rind to form a picture of Kaddafi...

Posted by: Cybrludite at December 1, 2004 02:04 AM

any more pictures of the Roman buildings? It has always amazed me how good thier structures still look.

Posted by: strcpy at December 1, 2004 02:22 AM

Capitalist dictators don't do nearly the damage these commies do.

Interesting pictures.

Posted by: David at December 1, 2004 04:11 AM

Amazing pictures, a real glimpse into another world. Thanks!

Posted by: Alex at December 1, 2004 04:14 AM

What a ghastly country,if one can judge by your excellent photographic essay.
I was jealous of your adventure, when you announced it but no longer.
I hope you had some decent moments in Ghaddafi's personal vision but what does it say about a country when the Roman Ruins look to be in better shape than 'modern' Tripoli.?
Shudder

Posted by: dougf at December 1, 2004 07:25 AM

Wow. Thanks a million for the photos. I had never seen any pictures of Libya before that I can recall. How successful is Gadafi at wiping out the Berber culture? What a beautiful, colorful cafe in the midst of all that tan and brown.

Posted by: miriam at December 1, 2004 07:35 AM

The fabulous Roman theater at Sabratha.

Amazing photo.

Thanks again, Michael. Looking forward to the article.

Too bad you didn't have any run-ins with the law.

Posted by: SoCalJustice at December 1, 2004 07:56 AM

Khiva, in Uzbekistan, is one of those "museum cities" too. The Soviets shipped everyone out to "preserve" the city, but the Uzbek government has wisely asked families to move back in. I never got to go there, but other volunteers who lived there or visited adored the city.

Posted by: Nathan at December 1, 2004 07:59 AM

this was enlightening.

Posted by: resident jason at December 1, 2004 08:08 AM

Welcome back Michael!

A picture is worth one thousand words. Very powerful presentation that shows the potential of Libya and the destruction that the Gadhafi regime has inflicted on Libya.

Talk to you soon!

Moh

Posted by: Mohamed Eljahmi at December 1, 2004 08:25 AM

Welcome back.
Neat pictures. The old adage is true.

Posted by: Eric Blair at December 1, 2004 08:53 AM

Enjoyed the pictures. I lived in Libya before Ghadafi. A few new buildings. but still a dull, drab city.

Posted by: Wayne Dundore at December 1, 2004 09:10 AM

Question: Why did Ghaddafi evacuate that city?

Posted by: Pat Curley at December 1, 2004 09:13 AM

Question: Why did Ghaddafi evacuate that city?

To better create the New Man obviously.

Posted by: David at December 1, 2004 09:23 AM

Really great photos that illuminate what's happened in "utopian" societies. What they had starts to look like paradise.

Posted by: henway at December 1, 2004 09:38 AM

Welcome home Michael, Your pictures and comments are very heart breaking. Quite a difference from you Tunisia trip earlier in the year. I can't wait to read your article when it is available. Also, I love the picture of the older lady. Thanks for opening my eyes to things that many of us never think about.

Posted by: Cathy at December 1, 2004 10:25 AM

Awesome. I am so jealous.

I wish you wouldn't call those Corbusier-style concrete slab projects "modern architecture". Your house is modern architecture. That Corbu stuff is postmodern by definition.

By my definition, at least.

Posted by: dipnut at December 1, 2004 10:27 AM

My wife lived in Tripoli as a kid when her father was stationed at Tripoli Air Force Base. She's always talking about Sabratha and Leptis Magna. She's going to love your pictures, though she'll probably be depressed by the ones in the old Italian sections of town. That's where she lived.

Posted by: rivlax at December 1, 2004 10:34 AM

The second picture is obviously a juicer for a preternaturally large orange.

Posted by: Sigivald at December 1, 2004 10:58 AM

Ps. -- the US air base base at Tripoli was Wheelus AB. (My Dad worked on communications there from '58 to '61.)

And in the photograph linked above, that's The Ol' Man holding my brother's and my hands. That's one of my favorite photographs of him.

Posted by: Billy Beck at December 1, 2004 11:27 AM

Spectacular photos and commentary--Maybe we should send those, who think America stinks, over there.

Posted by: Frank at December 1, 2004 12:06 PM

Okay, here's a thought...

If it's this bad in Libya, stop and imagine what it must be like living in North Korea right now. It boggles the American mind to see pictures like these, to come face to face with the fact that this sort of tyranny still exists in the world. It almost doesn't even look real.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at December 1, 2004 12:23 PM

Jay, you can find a lot of great photos of the theatre at Sabratha on this web page (which doesn't belong to me.)

http://www.jorgetutor.com/libia/sabratha2/sabratha.htm

Posted by: Lee Coursey at December 1, 2004 02:13 PM

That's not a fountain...it's the world's largest manual juicer!

Posted by: Michael Montecuollo at December 1, 2004 02:16 PM

Thanks. Very interesting.
How were you treated?

Just curious.

Posted by: Sam at December 1, 2004 02:29 PM

Fantastic. Sad thing is, the architecture there reminds me a lot of Honolulu.

Posted by: milky at December 1, 2004 03:56 PM

God Bless America. We are spoiled rotten brats. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

Cathy Cross
Proud Marine Mom
Fort Wayne, IN

Posted by: Cathy Cross at December 1, 2004 04:31 PM

Excellent tour. Thanks.

Posted by: John Venlet at December 1, 2004 05:39 PM

Thanks for making the trip and sharing your photos with us. There are many of us who are fascinated by the rest of the world but limited by circumstances to reading about it in Ntional Geographic and such.

I look forward to returning to your blog now that I've discovered it.

David March

Posted by: David March, animator & fiddler at December 1, 2004 06:21 PM

I spent 2 years in Libya back in 1956 And 1957. The city was not so modern, no tall buildings. But it was vibrant, busy and very clean. The Italian section had some wonderful resturants.I really enjoyed it. The British had a wonderful beach club on the Med. I could go on and on about the country. Back then there were a lot of remnants of WWII. In 1957 the Russian Embassy opened and it was down hill from there. Bob R.

Posted by: Bob R. at December 1, 2004 06:49 PM

I spent 2 years in Libya back in 1956 And 1957. The city was not so modern, no tall buildings. But it was vibrant, busy and very clean. The Italian section had some wonderful resturants.I really enjoyed it. The British had a wonderful beach club on the Med. I could go on and on about the country. Back then there were a lot of remnants of WWII. In 1957 the Russian Embassy opened and it was down hill from there. Bob R.

Posted by: Bob R. at December 1, 2004 06:49 PM

Mork,

You don't mention which totalitarian countries you lived in, but if Chomsky can feel comfy in Cuba, I'm sure you could too. Should we expect an equally passionate defense of N. Korea next?

You epitomize unintentional Leftist self-parody.

Posted by: David at December 1, 2004 07:50 PM

When I was in the U.S.Navy back around 1978 the ship I was on visited Tunsis,Tunsia and what pictures I took were so very similer to the desert seens here. The Sahara desert goes on for ever.
The point that the photographer portrays is pretty much like anywhere else thats run by someone who has became a dictator. The country goes to HELL and theres decay everywhere and then have to be reminded a every turn to look at the HORSES ASS'S PICTURES.
Thank GOD I get to live in a free society!!!
But on the lighter side I would like to thank the photographer on so awe some pictures..

Posted by: B.G.Ludolph at December 1, 2004 09:11 PM

Wonderful series.

The Roman buildings have something
so civilized yet beautiful at the
same time about them. It would be hard to
argue that progress has been made during
the intervening millenia.

Posted by: WichitaBoy at December 1, 2004 09:14 PM

Another totalitarian "utopia"...North Korea:

http://ncafe.com/northkorea/SunOkLeeTestimony_w_llus.pdf

http://ncafe.com/northkorea/AnMyong-cholTestimony.pdf

Note: for some reason, I could not submit the correct URL. In the url below, change ".com" to ".ru":

http://north-korea.narod.com/control_lankov.htm

Posted by: M at December 1, 2004 09:24 PM

The 5th picture ("Here is one of the regime’s many defunct compounds strewn around Tripoli like so much junk.") reminds me of the Main Post Office here in Portland. Ah, the beauty of mid-20th Century government architecture!

Posted by: Broadway Bridge at December 1, 2004 09:29 PM

More on N. Korea (a morbid fascination of mine):

http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/0470821310/ref=sib_fs_bod/103-8815869-3556630?%5Fencoding=UTF8&p=S00R&checkSum=QYzAVZ9d4iDkyo9IUzrRhH14IuQwb2CmOaPsOGX448A%3D#reader-link

http://www.house.gov/international_relations/108/93390.pdf

http://www.freenorthkorea.net/archives/freenorthkorea/001488.html

Posted by: M at December 1, 2004 09:47 PM

David - yours seems to be a peculiar political philosophy in which it is more virtuous to know less than more.

If your political beliefs lead you to prefer to avoid learning additional information, then it tells you something about the quality those beliefs.

Posted by: Mork at December 1, 2004 10:17 PM

Whoa, somehow a bunch of comments got deleted. I think my anti-spam software just had a seizure. Sorry. I didn't delete anyone's comment on purpose.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 1, 2004 10:36 PM

No, Michael, you either haven't read, or haven't comprehended a thing that I've posted.

I'm not trying to tell you "that Libyans are a happy people" or that Cubans are for that matter, or anything else so naive and ignorant.

What I am trying to point out - the only point of my original joke - is that any generalization that an entire nation of people is happy or unhappy is inherently stupid, when made by anyone - people just don't work that way. But it is doubly stupid when it is made by a person who has spent just a week in the country, doesn't speak the language, doesn't understand the culture and doesn't understand his own biases.

The point of my Cuba example is that your observation is the equivalent of my first proposition ("I saw people having fun in Cuba, and from that I conclude that Cuba is paradise").

A sensible observer, on the other hand, would end up somewhere closer to my third proposition, which is "I saw some things, but given how little I saw, and my own limitations as an observer, it's not really much to base generalizations on".

I now don't wonder that you missed the joke - why would you appreciate the absurdity of the fact that your sentence made you sound like a person who believed that they could lob into an alien culture for a week and come out posing as an expert on it, when, apparently, that is exactly what you had in mind?!

Posted by: Mork at December 1, 2004 10:44 PM

It looks like all my own comments on this thread were deleted. Ack. I do hate spam and the countermeasures used to get rid of it.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 1, 2004 10:58 PM

Mork,

I know human misery when I see it. I don't need to speak fluent Arabic to read people's faces and to understand what they tell me in English.

If you went to a prison for a week would you come out and say "well, I was only there for a week, I'm not an degreed expert on prison culture, so I don't want to jump to any conclusions and say it's an unhappy place." No. You wouldn't. Because that would be stupid.

I'm not touting myself as an expert on Libya, but I damn well know what I saw. And you don't. It's a miserable place. I spent two weeks in the country next door, and the difference in the temperament of the people is galactic. You can't tell me it isn't so because I know that it is so. If I can't note such things in a travel article (which I am working on at the moment), then there is no point in writing a travel article in the first place. I will write what I saw and heard, because that's the whole point of the frigging genre.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 1, 2004 11:04 PM

If your political beliefs lead you to prefer to avoid learning additional information, then it tells you something about the quality those beliefs.

Mork,

on the contrary. I'm dying for you to explain how "culture", "religion", and "health" are things that make people happy in totalitarian countries, when if fact those things are rarely found.

But so far, you've asked Michael to ignore the evidence of his eyes and ears in favor of your Lefty platitudes. You've mistaken that for knowledge and nuance. If you can explain to me how healthy the N. Koreans are, or how "cultural" Lybia is, or how "religious" the Cubans are, then you might have a case. Good luck though.

If you can find the time to insult me, then surely you could find the time to beef up your argument a bit.

Posted by: David at December 1, 2004 11:18 PM

David: you've asked Michael to ignore the evidence of his eyes and ears in favor of your Lefty platitudes. You've mistaken that for knowledge and nuance.

Yep, that's exactly what he's doing. It's quite aggravating to have someone try to negate my own experience and replace it with nothing.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 1, 2004 11:30 PM

It's quite aggravating to have someone try to negate my own experience and replace it with nothing.

Michael,

that's nothing short of Orwellian. In 1984, Winston sits at this desk in the Ministry of Truth, frustrated over Big Brother's tireless efforts to substitute facts with politically correct myths. "The party told you to reject the evidence of eyes and ears," Winston complains to himself. "It was their final, most essential command."

If you don't, then you must be stupid knuckledragger. It's all so strikingly familiar though.

Posted by: David at December 1, 2004 11:38 PM

Hi, Michael.

Thanks for the glimpse into Libya. For a country that's just around the corner from here (Israel), I knew next to nothing about it. I've seen pics of places in Egypt, with which we have some diplomatic relations, but Libya? Never.

Thanks again. It was really interesting.

Posted by: Amos (Zionist Minion) at December 1, 2004 11:45 PM

O, and by the way, what you thought to be an old house on the side of the road in the desert is in all probability a tomb for some holy man (sheik, imam, mullah, whatever) of theirs. The old tombs for Arab holy men here in Israel look just like it.

Posted by: Amos (Zionist Minion) at December 1, 2004 11:50 PM

If I may interrupt the love-fest for a moment, you're both completely mischaracterizing what I wrote.

Michael, of course you should write what you saw and heard. All I am suggesting is that you would serve yourself well to employ enough humility to recognize the limitations on your (or anyone else's) powers of observation and avoid extrapolating those observations into the type of bombastic generalization that triggered this exchange.

David, you're just fucking clueless. You're beating up a straw man. I've not said a word that's remotely sympathetic to any totalitarian regime. All I've said is that it's not enough to identify that a place has fucked politics and conclude that everyone must be in misery, because most people in the world don't care aboout politics in the abstract. You need to look at the things that actually affect human happiness on a direct, day-to-day basis. And those are things like family, health, religion, safety, and the quality of the culture and so on. Of course many of those things are going to be in short supply in a totalitarian country. But that's where you have to look.

And the weird thing is, it's a fucking conservative argument - the only possible conclusion is that the less politics/government intrudes into people's lives the better they are likely to be - but you're so thick that you immediately dismiss any proposition that you haven't previously heard Sean Hannity parrot as a "lefty platitude".

And you know I don't mean all of that, but I laugh when I read it, so I'm going to post it anyway.

Posted by: Mork at December 1, 2004 11:57 PM

Mork,

I didn't say Libyans are unhappy because I personally dislike Ghaddafi's politics. Please. I said they're unhappy because they look pretty fucking unhappy. They are quiet, heavy, sullen, cautious. They rarely smile or laugh. It's not just that they are reserved (though they are that), it's farther. They look depressed, like a family member just died.

I had no idea if it would be that way or not. Tunisia is also run by a dictatorship, but Tunisians are pretty damn chipper.

Like I said, the difference in the temperaments of these neighboring people is just incredible. I know human beings, Mork. Human nature is what it is. I can tell when people are miserable. This isn't about politics, it's about emotion, facial expression, body language, tone of voice, etc. Politics is the likely answer for why they are this way because of the nature of that country at this time. They aren't poor. No one is going hungry there, and they all have a decent-sized roof over their heads.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 2, 2004 12:50 AM

I'm not sure if you know this already but the Arabic writing on the hillside does not say "al-Fatah" but rather "al-Faatih."

Obviously this is still a regime slogan - I'm not sure if "Faatih" has a specific meaning in the Libyan context, but if not, then it would mean something like "forever victorious."

Regardless, it has nothing to do with "Fatah" the Palestinian political faction, if that's what you were trying to suggest, which is a different word in Arabic.

Posted by: anon at December 2, 2004 12:55 AM

anon,

My mistake. The word is "Fateh," not "Fatah." It refers to Ghaddafi's "revolution" (which was really a military coup) in 1969.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 2, 2004 01:17 AM

They are quiet, heavy, sullen, cautious. They rarely smile or laugh. It's not just that they are reserved (though they are that), it's farther. They look depressed, like a family member just died.

See, this is what I'm driving at. You might well observe that most of the people you saw appeared sad to your eyes. That's a straightforward statement of what you observed and how you interpreted it. But it's a long way to go from that observation to the observation that started this off - that all Libyan people lead miserable, empty lives, or whatever it was.

It's also better writing - showing rather than telling - if you care about such things.

Human nature is what it is. I can tell when people are miserable. This isn't about politics, it's about emotion, facial expression, body language, tone of voice, etc.

You can't be that well travelled if you believe that facial expressions and gestures are universal across cultures. Even a guidebook will tell you that.

Politics is the likely answer for why they are this way because of the nature of that country at this time.

So, apart from the nature of the current regime, there are no ethnic, cultural or historical differences between Libya and Tunisia? Really?

Just to pluck out the first thing that springs to mind: what about their level of exposure and attitude to Westerners, or strangers generally? Don't forget that the only people you saw were also people who were at the same time being affected by your presence. Might that not have made a difference? I've been to one or two places where folks didn't have a particularly high regard for westerners for one reason or another, and I found that it couldn't help but affect my view of them. I've also been to places where people don't see a lot of strangers. Sometimes those are the most curious and wecoming places, but sometimes not.

Posted by: Mork at December 2, 2004 03:52 AM

Mr. Totten, thank you for your wonderful photo tour of a truly depressing place. Thanks, as well, for pointing out the few bright spots.

I think Mork just likes to see his words in print. Probably people who know him avoid him.

Posted by: Abu Qa'Qa at December 2, 2004 05:29 AM

Fascinating pictures. The goats of Leptis Magna made me laugh. I helped my father-in-law organize his childhood pictures (he's Arabic) and out of 65 pictures 60 of them had a goat in the shot. Same with my grandfathers pictures from Sicily and later as a young man in the US. Goats in every shot.

I thought you commentary was excellent. Can't wait to read the article.

Posted by: Kim at December 2, 2004 06:10 AM

Great shots of Ghadames! No more of old Roman bldgs? Great gallery.

Posted by: SteveoBrien at December 2, 2004 07:29 AM

And the weird thing is, it's a fucking conservative argument - the only possible conclusion is that the less politics/government intrudes into people's lives the better they are likely to be - but you're so thick that you immediately dismiss any proposition that you haven't previously heard Sean Hannity parrot as a "lefty platitude".

Mork,

you're awfully long on opinion but short on facts to back them up. Please tell me how saying people are happy because of culture and religion in totalitarian countries is a "conservative" statement?

Yes, culture and religion are conservative values, but those things are almost non-existent in totalitarian countries; therefore I fail to see how you can argue that the proles living in those countries are taking comfort from them. I don't know how esle to say this for you to understand. And re "health", most people don't give a crap about health until it's gone.

And FYI, at least "Sean Hannity" hasn't nuanced himself into irrelevancy.

Posted by: David at December 2, 2004 07:37 AM

I've heard that a small town on the coast of Libya has great SCUBA diving. Can you verify this?

Posted by: paul a'barge at December 2, 2004 08:42 AM

Please tell me how saying people are happy because of culture and religion in totalitarian countries is a "conservative" statement?

Please tell me where I made that statement.

Yes, culture and religion are conservative values

You really do have a comprehension problem. I never said that either - what I said was that they are more important to most people than politics ... and understanding that is fundamentally a conservative way of looking at the world.

Your problem isn't with "nuance", it's simply that you don't understand what you read.

Posted by: Mork at December 2, 2004 02:25 PM

I leave a clever little comment lambasting Mork for his postmodernisms, come back the next day to read his response, and my post gets deleted by over-ambitious spam software?! Grrrrrr.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at December 2, 2004 03:01 PM

Grant, you should be grateful. Your ignorance of post-modernism, what "Orientalism" means, and the intellectual history of the debate between cultural relativism and universalism were cruelly exposed, but now no-one need ever know!

Posted by: Mork at December 2, 2004 03:26 PM

Outstanding. Thanks.

Posted by: ThatGuy at December 2, 2004 09:07 PM

Mork, a single correction: A great deal of work has been done specifically on human expressions (as distinct from "gestures" such as headshaking). These do in fact appear to be the same across cultures--though it is also true that some people are harder to read than others, and some people are less good at reading faces than others.

I agree that it would have been slightly more careful writing for the author of the piece to have said "the people I met all...[x]" .

But you're beating a dead horse by this point. A horse named "Hannity", mayhap? :)

Nortius Maximus

Posted by: Nortius Maximus at December 3, 2004 12:22 AM

Ghadafi has been a Colonel for how many decades? Jeez, you'd think he'd promote himself; or perhaps he's afraid of overreaching.

Posted by: Pigilito at December 3, 2004 04:00 AM

Thanks much for the photos..
My son and I are currently
waiting for our Visa's for
a Christmas time trip there.
Was Tripoli really all that
bad to visit? We've been
to Havana, and can't see
how any city can match it's
underneath beauty. Was that
our scheduled hotel, the
Kebar, in the second picture?
What were the prices of
Gadaffi wrist watches?

Posted by: Robert O. at December 3, 2004 03:21 PM

Robert,

I also stayed at the Kebar. It's better than my first hotel, which is pictured, but it's still no great shakes.

The Ghaddafi wristwatches range in price from 25 to 600 dollars. I bought one for 25. It doesn't work - big surprise.

Tripoli sucks, but has a few little interesting pockets. Ghadames, though, is spectacular. Be very sure you go there. It is a six-hour drive from Tripoli and a vastly more satisfying place to visit.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 3, 2004 07:37 PM

Thanks for the answers! Much appreciated. I think that we'll still enjoy it. We're going with ARKNO Tours, and are more interested in history and culture, than landscapes. When we were in Havana, we stayed at the Ingleterra - seven years ago. Found Cuba very interesting. I forwards your site to my friends, who think we're crazy, but they loved your comments! My 21 year old Political Science Major kid wants a watch to go with his Mao watches and lighters! (And Che T-shirts!)

Posted by: Robert O. at December 3, 2004 10:55 PM

Absolutely fascinating.

A bit of trivia... In the '50s and '60s, just east of Tripoli was Wheelus Air Base (http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/facility/wheelus.htm), where we used to forward deploy SAC bombers, etc. I had a friend in high school who was born in the hospital there. He was forever having to explain why a blonde-haired, blue-eyed American was born in an enemy country (it was the mid-70s).

Posted by: Gordie at December 4, 2004 12:13 AM

Wonderful pictures. Tripoli looked like dump but the desert pics were breathtaking!

Posted by: Eskimo at December 4, 2004 06:32 PM

WTF, some people just can't help politicizing EVERYTHING...arguing in a photo post??? Just shut up and enjoy the view!

Michael, these pictures are spectacular. I was (sort of) considering a trip to Libya to see a total eclipse (in March 2006), but you've pretty much convinced me to stick with the safer plan and go to Turkey instead. Not only is Libya less safe, but it looks like hell for actual living conditions (not unexpected, though).

Anyway, great post!

Posted by: Beth at December 5, 2004 01:21 PM

Beth,

Libya is actually very safe. Weird, but safe. Really.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 5, 2004 01:37 PM

Amazing photos. I can't wait to read the article.

Luck

Posted by: Luck at December 5, 2004 03:32 PM

Michael,

Quite by chance this weekend I found a journal article on Ghadames which may be of use for your writings:

A M Shawesh, "Traditional settlement in the oasis of Ghadames in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriyin", Libyan Studies 26 (1995), pp 35-47

Abstract: Traditional settlements in Libya reflect man's response to the harsh environmental conditions and the need to sustain social organisation and respect social and cultural traditions. Thus urban dwellers have a strong concern with the morphology of settlements and the needs of indigenous habitats. This has played an important part in shaping the character of traditional Libyan cities and towns. As far as people are concerned they are part of their community or neighbourhood. This paper reviews the old town of Ghadames to show how traditional settlement successfully responded to geographical and environmental conditions and social needs. Attention is also focused on the architectural character, house form and building methods and materials, based on a survey carried out by the author in Ghadames oasis in August 1991. It attempts to establish the suitability of traditional building.

Contents and abstract at:
http://www.britac.ac.uk/institutes/libya/ls26.html

The journal is published by the Society for Liyan Studies:
http://www.britac.ac.uk/institutes/libya/

Max

Posted by: Max Hadley at December 6, 2004 01:22 AM

Michael, fabulous pictures! You have given us all a great gift by sharing your trip.

As for the rather moronic droning of mork, one wonders why some people feel the need to denigrate the contributions of others when their own attributes are so paltry in comparison. One does not need to understand every nuance of leftist philosophies to arrive at the conclusion that people who look miserable usually are.

In other words, if it moos like a cow, it's usually a cow. Ignore mork, he's being a jerk. You did a good thing here. Thank you for sharing.

Posted by: joy at December 6, 2004 11:31 AM

hey,,, i'm libyan , you know that i know everything about how is it in libya , all the first pics was real but i think you just take the worse places to show! i can take a tough pics in Paris or in anywhere in fact i did but i love to show the world the nice places , Libya is treasure to discover and awonderfull place to spend ur holiday , i think you agree me in this , unless you want to spend ur holiday drunk so libya is not for u !! waves from the sea sands ..sam

Posted by: sam at December 7, 2004 07:52 AM

I have some photos from the 70s that don't look a whole lot different. I've always thought I'd like to go back to see the place I lived as a kid. Thanks for providing this glimpse into the long ago and far away!

Posted by: Laurie Winfield at December 7, 2004 12:03 PM

Sam: hey,,, i'm libyan , you know that i know everything about how is it in libya , all the first pics was real but i think you just take the worse places to show! i can take a tough pics in Paris or in anywhere in fact i did but i love to show the world the nice places

I showed some of the nice places, too, Sam.

Don't take offense. I didn't single Libya out for abuse. (Besides, the ugly parts of Tripoli are Ghaddafi's fault, not yours.)

I wrote about the ugly parts of Paris recently (no pics, but only because I don't have any), and I also published a photo gallery of my home city, both the beautiful and ugly parts.

I wanted to show Libya as it is, warts and all. It's better and more honest that way.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 7, 2004 01:08 PM

do u have any photos of modern tripoli by any chance?

Posted by: jjjj at December 7, 2004 05:53 PM

Fascinating.

Posted by: David Sucher at December 7, 2004 08:41 PM
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